A Senior Minister Ducked Questions On The Chaos At No 10 After The UK Reported Its Highest Ever Number Of New Covid Cases
Business Secretary Alok Sharma refused to discuss the fallout from Lee Cain's resignation (PA)
The business secretary Alok Sharma repeatedly refused to discuss the resignation of the Downing Street’s director of communications Lee Cain at today’s press briefing after it sparked a war of words in Westminster.
The senior Cabinet minister was appearing alongside NHS England medical director Professor Stephen Powis after it was revealed the UK recorded its highest daily figure for new coronavirus cases since the outbreak began.
He was repeatedly asked about how the fallout from Mr Cain’s high-profile resignation last night after a day of briefings and counter-briefings from different factions within Number 10 and the Conservative Party.
Mr Sharma was forced to deny the chaos was distracting the government from tackling the pandemic as England enters its second week of another full lockdown.
"I can tell you that all of us in government are focused on one thing, which is protecting lives and protecting livelihoods,” he said.
He added: "That is what people watching this press conference...will expect the government to do, to make sure that we are providing support for them and continuing to put our arms round them at what is a really very, very difficult time for lots of businesses.”
The minister then failed to answer a question on who US president-elect Joe Biden's chief of staff should call in Number 10 if they wished to speak to their UK counterpart.
It comes after Mr Cain was said to have been offered the role of chief of staff to Boris Johnson, whereupon other senior aides and the PM’s fiancee Carrie Symonds had argued against it, eventually culminating in him stepping down.
Instead of answering Mr Sharma chose to speak about the Mr Johnson's telephone call with Mr Biden, and said the government's focus was "saving lives and livelihoods”.
He was appearing in Downing Street minutes after it was confirmed as of 9am on Thursday there had been a further 33,470 lab-confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK, which brings the total number of cases to 1,290,195.
It is the highest recorded figure, but as testing capacity was much lower at the start of the pandemic it is likely the virus was infecting more people during the first wave than are contracting it now.
Professor Powis said there were now more than 12,700 people in hospital with coronavirus in England, up from 3,827 one month ago.
"That number will unfortunately continue to rise if infection rates continue to increase in our communities,” he said.
”Sadly while treatments and therapies have indeed improved, more infections inevitably also mean more deaths and more people suffering from the debilitating effects of long Covid.”
Earlier the Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove had insisted there is a "complete focus" in government on coronavirus despite the turmoil in Downing Street.
Pressed on how he could say that with a straight face, considering the continued fallout today, he replied: "I can completely.
"My focus, and the focus of other ministers, and the focus of the colleagues of whom I work is totally on delivering for the British people, honouring our manifesto promises, making sure we take back control and also making sure that the economic opportunities of our recovery from Covid are exploited to the full."
The PM's official spokesman James Slack, who confirmed he would be replacing Mr Cain when he departs in the new year, insisted that Mr Johnson remains "absolutely focused" on the pandemic and was not being distracted by staffing issues.
"You've seen from the Prime Minister this week that he's absolutely focused on taking all the steps that are required to equip the country to beat coronavirus," the spokesman said.